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Transcendent (Destiny's Children) Hardcover – November 29, 2005
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From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Set in the same vast time scale and future as Coalescent (2003) and Exultant (2004, both Del Rey), Transcendent can be read independently. Michael Poole is a middle-aged engineer in the year of the digital millennium (2047) and Alia is a recognizably human (but evolved) adolescent born on a starship half a million years later. Michael still dreams of space flight, but the world and its possibilities are much diminished due to environmental degradation. The gifted teen has studied Michael's life, for the Poole family played a pivotal role in creating the human future, and thus her world. Through seemingly supernatural apparitions, Alia bridges time to communicate with Michael as they determine the future of humanity. The Pooles are a troubled family, and readers will appreciate the conflict between Michael and his son as they are forced to find common ground in a struggle to reverse the final tipping point of global warming. Teens will also understand Alia's alarm, and her growing determination to choose her own destiny, when she is selected to join the Transcendents and is rushed into their unimaginable post-human reality. This is visionary, philosophical fiction, rich in marvels drawn from today's cutting-edge science. A typical paragraph by Baxter might turn more ideas loose on readers than an entire average, mundane novel does, but all this food for thought is delivered with humor and compassion. Experienced SF readers will enjoy sinking their teeth into the story, while general readers who have enjoyed near-future, science-based suspense novels such as those by Michael Crichton will discover here that science fiction can set a higher, much richer standard than what they've experienced before.-Christine C. Menefee, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
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Praise for Stephen Baxter
“Utterly fascinating . . . constantly surprising . . . Coalescent reveals a new side to Baxter’s vast talent.”
“A gripping read . . . Baxter continues to prove that he has phenomenal insight into humanity, giving us not only an inspired book, but more to think about in regards to our own evolution.”
“[Baxter excels] at both action-packed storytelling and philosophical speculation.”
“Baxter has an uncanny gift for mixing a punchy, cyberpunk cynicism with his resolutely hard SF story base. . . . [Exultant] rivals Asimov in its boundless vision for the future evolution of humanity.”
–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Striking . . . chilling . . . [with] a triumphant conclusion.”
“Technically brilliant and downright exciting.”
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Top customer reviews
But what happens if human consciousness succeeds in carrying the species into an almost omnipotent state, where life expectancies become almost endless, the very fabric of space-time is under human control, and an emergent meta-consciousness arises to link individual minds? Need humans ever be concerned about extinction again? Might there be one last "bottleneck" to get through, though, that of consciousness itself? Can even an advanced consciousness resist the temptation to "meddle" in its own history, to seek to rectify all of the past suffering and strife of the species by removing the species completely from history? To, in essence, seek extinctive suicide as the only means to correct historical wrongs?
As always, Stephen Baxter explores deeply profound concepts, but this latest outing is not up to the task. As part of a series, "Transcendent" does little to unite with the themes of "Coalescent" and "Exultant". The Poole family is back--even George gets to show his age--but while the Pooles of "Coalescent" were well-written characters struggling through the generations, the Pooles of "Transcendent" seem shallow and petty. Michael Poole (George's nephew) emerges as the fulcrum of human history, but long before the end of the book I found myself thinking, "This character is too flat for this role." It becomes very hard to care about the characters in "Transcendent", and he themes in "Exultant" receive only a couple of quick mentions. These books could have stood alone to tell their stories, and would have been more satisfying to me had they not been linked by a series. "Coalescent" rambled, though parts of that story were captivating; "Exultant" was tightly written, in my opinion the best of the three; and as for "Transcendent"...well, there are some fascinating concepts going on, but from the standpoint of story I found the book to be weak, with no emotional linkages or closure for the characters of the earlier books.
I consider Baxter one of the core group of hard science fiction writers however reading his books often feels too much like work...unlike Banks or Reynolds. Maybe its too much exposition on physics and too little character development. The balance between the two is off.
All in all, a so so book.
From earlier titles, it is obvious that Baxter is very comfortable with physics, cosmology, and the related mathematics. His story lines tend to have characters swept through events based on grand concepts such as entropy, resource starvation, no faster than light travel (FTL), etc.
In transcendent, the storyline is character based and the basic physics and math seem lost. FTL allows the protagonist to check stuff out all over the galaxy. Kind of a staple sci fi plot device. Throw in time travel via closing the universe in four dimensions, hmmm, OK. The approach to the mathematics of infinity, however, left me a little cold. A younger Baxter would have trotted out a convergence proof and embedded it into the story. Here, there is a hand wave that infinites collide with magical results.
Finally, there's the poor haunted Poole. Why is it so popular these days that when a character sees a ghost/vision/halucination that they get pathetic? Recall Nash in "A Beautiful Mind" who, on realizing that he sees people who aren't there, mediates his reaction to them? Contrast Baltar in battlestar galactica who partially reacts to his cylon babe vision as if he doesn't know how crazy he looks. At least Baltar remains functional. Poole just gets pathetic. In a realistic storyline, Poole would have been shunted to an alley to mumble at a gin bottle.
Sadly, Poole is the most developed character in a character driven book. I put him at 2.3 dimensions and thereby able to fill a 3 dimensional space given arbitrarly large effort.
Admittedly, tying in some philosophical bits was OK, but it is obvious that Baxter lived physics and dabbled in philosophy. As they say: "Write what you know."